APIs - The Future of Cloud Computing for Lawyers and Law Firms800+ members, 200+ countries, pending IPO, billion dollar acquisitions.  Facebook is powerful huge - actually I don’t think one word can do justice in describing Facebook.  Love it or hate it, Facebook isn’t going anywhere.  So, how did it grow so big?  Well, you are likely familiar with the well-known reasons – great leadership, exclusivity, engaging and addictive platform… etc. (fans of the social network may remember – “my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.”).

However, one of these “things” – often overlooked – was the launch of Facebook Connect.   Facebook Connect allows its members to log onto other websites using their Facebook identification and post information and updates to their Facebook profile.  This seems normal now, but at the time it was launched it was unique.  As the The New York Times stated at the time, “some say the services are representative of surprising new thinking in Silicon Valley. Instead of trying to hoard information about their users, the Internet companies (including Facebook, Google, MySpace and Twitter) all share at least some of that data so people do not have to enter the same identifying information again and again on different sites.”  Via FB connect, FB penetrated all corners of the web and became virtually unstoppable.

A little technical background – Facebook Connect relies on a set of APIs.  Without getting too technical, an API or “application programming interface” is an interface implemented by one application that allows other applications to communicate with it.  The main purpose of an API is communication – allowing two separate applications to communicate and exchange data back and forth.   An API is generally invisible to the end user – they are pieces of code created by programmers that run behind the scenes.

You likely use APIs every day, and may not even know it.  As mentioned, when you sign onto a site using Facebook Connect, you are using its API – the third-party site pulls certain data straight from Facebook.   Paypal payments rely on an API.  The Disqus and LiveFyre comment platforms operate via APIs.  And on the RFPattorney legal network, we use the LinkedIn API to show an attorney’s connections to a user and the Twitter API to integrate an attorney’s feed.

So how is this all relevant to legal tech??  Well, the ABA Tech Show 2012 recently took place in Chicago.  (A great summary can be found here, as well as here)  There were a number of innovative and interesting product announcements, especially in the area of cloud computing.  Significantly, several cloud practice management platforms announced the launch of their own APIs, including ClioMyCaseRocketMatter, and Total Attorneys.  These announcements represent a significant step for legal tech and cloud computing for lawyers.  Instead of “trying to hoard information” (like some traditional legal companies), these companies now allow open access to third-parties via an API to communicate with their existing platforms and build off of them.

Imagine a world where you could - seamlessly, securely, and ethically - generate leads and new clients on one platform, export the contact and matter to another for management, use a third as a portal for communicating with that client, a fourth for billing, and a fifth for client surveys.  You get the idea.

Congrats to these companies and their teams for building these APIs and taking legal tech to the next level.  We are excited to kick the tires as RFPattorney grows and these APIs become even more robust.

Ryan Bowers

Founder of RFPattorney.com and author of the RFPattorney Blog. Over 8 years of experience practicing law, including past experience at an international law firm, a national law firm, and a small firm. Currently GC and VP Operations for large mechanical construction company. Midwesterner, home renovator, golden retriever wrangler, new dad, Wolverine, & avid hockey fan.

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